Idealism as Alternative Modernity, 3

Idealism as Alternative Modernity, 1

Idealism as Alternative Modernity, 2

While the continuity of its Schellingian and Hegelian versions with the esoteric tradition is today obvious, and other continuities stressed by Muirhead and others are certainly not unimportant, modern idealism in the German post-Kantian and the Anglo-American line is often, perhaps even generally, of a different kind, and introduced new and other elements. In my paper at the Idealism Today conference at Oxford in 2005, ’Idealism and the Renewal of Humanistic Philosophy’, I defended what I find to be the general truths in those lines of idealism. When I speak of idealism as alternative modernity, I have in mind primarily those truths, but I am strongly inclined to emphasize a need for a broader concept of idealism for this purpose too, an idealism reinforced, as it were, by the ”Berkeleyan”, esoteric, Platonic, and Vedantic elements that were decisive for my own early intellectual formation.

In most of those forms, idealism represents, and ever since antiquity in the case of some of them, an alternative to certain historically context-specific exoteric developments of Christian orthodoxy. Because of this, it often tended to become intrinsically and constitutively a part modernity, and both its rationalist, scientific, Enlightenment variation and its romantic one (as I have defined those terms in several publications). Scholars sometimes rightly focus on Hegelianism in the context of the question of the so-called legitimacy of modernity, but their interpretations of both Hegelianism and modernity for the most part seem, as in the case of Robert Pippin, unduly reductive. What is at stake, I suggest, is in reality much broader metaphysical and spiritual concerns.

Although it is perhaps partly because of my ”reinforced” idealism that I have never been able to see the various attempted refutations of idealism in the twentieth century as even very noteworthy, let alone convincing, I insist, as in my Oxford paper, that there are central insights of modern, specifically German idealism and its variations in the Anglo-American “empire of idealism” which are still very much valid, relevant, and indeed simply true, and not just of historical interest. The historical scholarship that dominates the presentations at these conferences help transmit that legacy even as most participants are not themselves thoroughgoing idealists, as it were.

Anglo-American idealism scholars long tended, and quite naturally, to focus on the attack of the analytical philosophers, and to a much lesser extent on the attack of phenomenologists, existentialists, and neo-Thomists. But no less important, I think, is to take a closer look at the efforts of, by now, generations of liberal political philosophers and Marxist historians of various stripes to try to isolate an admissible idealist prehistory of their own liberalism and Marxism and dismiss other important elements of idealism as exclusively part and parcel of the German so-called Sonderweg. Many of the latter elements, as characteristically analysed in works such as Fritz Ringer’s influential The Decline of the German Mandarins, entered into Anglo-American idealism too, even as the latter significantly modified them in accordance with the differences in their cultural traditions and mentalities. Much greater discernment is required for the understanding of idealism – in all its worldview ramifications, not just in philosophy but for the understanding of culture, history, politics, and religion – in Germany and in other European countries.

This is so not least in view of the factual historical course taken by modernity. Did idealism in my broader sense produce the modernity that, in time, turned against it? In my paper at the International Conference on Anglo-American Idealism in Pyrgos, Greece, in 2003, I explored this problem, and argued that, largely because of the opposition to the mentioned developments of Christian exotericism, the broader idealism (before the specific modern versions were developed) often turned into what I called a ”pantheistic revolution” which, because of its inner dynamic, generated the problematically one-sided versions of rationalism and romanticism which have come to determine the shape and substance of the main form of modernity.

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